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Arab Spring, Muslim Winter
Posted By Frontpagemag.com On December 2, 2011 @ 12:34 am In Daily Mailer,FrontPage | 5 Comments
The panel discussion below recently took place at David Horowitz’s Restoration Weekend in West Palm Beach, Florida (Nov. 17-20, 2011). The transcript follows. To view the Question and Answer session, click here.
Mark Tapson: And I’m also honored to introduce this panel of distinguished and ridiculously accomplished speakers. You know when you hear speakers described as people who need no introduction? These are those people. But to justify myself being up here, I’m going to say a few quick words about them anyway, and we can get down to business.
Our too-brief time together is going to go like this. I’m going to get the ball rolling by throwing out a very broad question for each of the speakers to expound upon in turn, for which they will each have about seven minutes. Then we will take questions from the audience and have a lot of lively interaction that way.
When we get to the questions, please limit yourself to one question — and a question, as opposed to comments or remarks. And try to direct your question toward one speaker, although I will probably allow the other speakers to jump in as well and offer their opinions.
We have a complex, fascinating, critical topic today — Arab Spring, Muslim winter. “Arab Spring” is a phrase that is familiar to everybody this year. It’s been so prominent in the news media throughout 2011 that I fully expect “Arab Spring” to be Time Magazine’s Person of the Year.
The mainstream media latched onto this phrase in their giddy excitement about what they saw as a flowering of freedom-loving democratic movements throughout the Arab world, for which they were eager to credit Obama’s famed Cairo speech as partial inspiration. Of course, as we’ve seen it unfold throughout the year with Islamic fundamentalists establishing political dominance, the Arab Spring is now starting to look more like “Springtime for Hitler.”
Only without the funny show tunes.
So, gentlemen of the panel — and I’ll introduce them momentarily here — gentlemen of the panel, here’s my unmanageably broad — actually, let me introduce them now, so that they don’t forget what the question is.
We’ll start at the far end here, with Michael Totten. Michael Totten is a contributing editor at City Journal. He writes regularly for Commentary and is the author of “In the Wake of the Surge” and the more recent book, “The Road to Fatima Gate,” which is a must-read, by the way. His work has also appeared everywhere from the New York Times and Wall Street Journal to the Jerusalem Post and Beirut’s Daily Star. In fact, he is a former resident of Beirut and has been to Iraq seven times.
Next, we have Dr. Daniel Pipes. He is the director of the Middle East Forum and the author and editor of so many books I don’t have time to list them all, including the must-read book “Militant Islam Reaches America.” He has taught at so many universities I don’t have time to list them all, either. But I’ll throw out just a couple — Harvard and Princeton. Perhaps you’ve heard of them. And he has written for so many publications I don’t have time to list those either. But I’ll throw out a couple — Atlantic Monthly and Foreign Affairs. Suffice it to say he is one of the world’s foremost authorities and analysts on the Middle East and Islam.
Andrew McCarthy was a top federal prosecutor, renowned for leading the prosecution of the World Trade Center bombings, Blind Sheikh and other jihadists.
Decorated with the Justice Department’s highest honors, he has gone on to become one of the country’s most prominent voices on national security issues. He’s the author of two must-reads, “Willful Blindness” and “The Grand Jihad.” A lot of must-reads on this panel; you’ll have a lot of reading to do. He’s a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and a contributing editor at National Review.
And closest to me is Douglas Murray. He was the director of the Center for Social Cohesion from 2007 to 2011 and is currently an associate director of the Henry Jackson Society. He has written a number of books, including the must-read “Neoconservatism: Why We Need It.” Murray commentates regularly in the media and writes for a number of publications, including the Spectator and Wall Street Journal. In 2009 he was awarded the Charles Douglas-Home Memorial Prize for Journalism.
Ridiculously accomplished, as I said.
So gentlemen of the panel, here is my unmanageably broad multipart question for each of you — what are the roots of the Arab Spring? Where is it all headed? And what does it mean for the Middle East and the United States? And what can and/or should we do about it?
So let’s begin at the far end, with Michael Totten.
Michael Totten: Okay. Everybody hear me all right?
I think all of us up here probably have a rather dim view of what’s being called the Arab Spring. Though I’m an optimistic person by nature, the Middle East is a great teacher of pessimism.
I was in Beirut in 2005 during what most Westerners called the Cedar Revolution. I sort of thought of it as the Beirut Spring. That’s what I — that’s what some called it, that’s what I thought of it as in my head. It looked to me a lot like an Arab version of Berlin in 1989. But it turns out that Beirut in 2005 was really more like Budapest in 1956. Or Prague in 1968.
So I am not so optimistic about where these revolutions are heading in the other Arab countries after what I’d seen in Lebanon. Although I try to be as optimistic as possible, I don’t have a lot to work with. But I will put for you the best optimistic spin I can, which is admittedly not much, on what’s going on now.
So, we’ll start with Tunisia. On Tunisia, I’m a little less pessimistic about where it’s going than the other countries. Because it looks and feels — or it did when I was there a few years ago — looked and felt pre-democratic to me in ways that other Arab countries don’t. It’s more oriented toward the Mediterranean than most Arab countries tend to be. Women’s rights are better advanced there. There’s vastly fewer women wearing the veil and headscarves than there are in most Arab countries, especially Egypt. There’s a wide spectrum of political opinions.
But unfortunately, the Islamist party, Ennahda, did very well a couple weeks ago, winning 43 percent of the vote. The media often describes the Ennahda Party as moderate. It’s not really moderate. Its leader, Rachid Ghannouchi, cannot be described as moderate in any sense that we care about. He has supported suicide bombers in Israel, the insurgency in Iraq; and said that Gaza is the model for Arab freedom.
But he did run a moderate campaign. He felt like — he felt pressure from inside Tunisia that he can’t run on a platform like that; he ran on a moderate platform. So I think it’s safe to assume that some of the people who voted for him are moderate, even if he is not. So I’m not quite ready to write off Tunisia yet.
Egypt is still the same military — Arab nationalist military dictatorship that’s been running the country since 1952. And Egyptian liberals — I’m using “liberal” in the general sense of the world — are vastly outnumbered by supporters of the army or supporters of the radical Islamists in the Muslim Brotherhood. So I don’t see any way that Egypt is going to become anything like a Western-style democracy anytime soon, since most of the people who live in Egypt aren’t actually trying to get there.
And Libya — Libya, unlike Egypt, did have a total regime change. God knows what comes next, but it’s probably not going to be pretty, and it’s certainly not going to be easy. Every political faction in the country has guns. al-Qaeda has a presence there. There’s been already violent clashes between different political factions in and around Tripoli — I’m not even sure what it was about. But it’s happening, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see more of it.
Libya under Khadafi was one of most oppressive countries in the world. It’s the most oppressive country I’ve ever seen. It’s possibly the most oppressive country I will ever see. The only countries more brutally repressive than Libya under Khadafi were Turkmenistan and North Korea.
So these people are really starting from zero. They don’t have any experience with political pluralism or compromise. And they’re going to have to make it up as they go along, while everybody’s well armed. So it does — it’s probably not going to be pretty in Libya anytime soon.
And finally there’s Syria, which , like Lebanon and Iraq, is a sectarian tinderbox. Here’s a country that is ruled by the Alawite minority that makes up about 12 percent of the population. And the Alawites branched off from Shia Islam centuries ago, but they’re not really Muslims. They’re sometimes described as Muslims, but they’re not really. Most Sunnis and most Shias consider them infidels.
And they are fighting to hold onto power in Syria, not only because they want to govern Syria, as they have been; but because for them, this is an existential fight. Because they fear persecution by the Sunni majority if they lose. Not only because they’re not really Muslims, but also because they’ve been running a totalitarian, total-surveillance police state, oppressing the majority for so long. So Assad and his people are going to fight and kill as many people as they have to to stay in power.
But it actually looks like there’s a possibility that he’ll fall. I didn’t think that he would, but I’m starting to think, well, maybe he will. And if he does, I would have to say that’s a good thing, even if what follows Assad is bad. Even if the Muslim Brotherhood takes over Syria, which would be disastrous, I still think that it would probably be less bad than what we have currently.
Because in Syria, we have Iran’s only real Arab ally, the biggest Arab state sponsor of terrorism in the Middle East, strong armor of Hamas and Hezbollah. And the Muslim Brotherhood — Syrian Sunnis at least have feelings of great antipathy for the Iranian regime and for Hezbollah. If the Muslim Brotherhood replaces him, they’ll surely still support Hamas. It will be as anti-Israel as the current government is, and probably as anti-American as the current government is. But at least it will be bad news for Iran and for Hezbollah.
So if Assad actually does fall, the Arab Spring, at least at that point, won’t look quite as dim as it did earlier, when it appeared that only the pro-American dictators were going to fall. Now that Khadafi’s gone, and Assad might go, the Arab Spring might be a little more of a wash for us.
Mark Tapson: Thanks, Michael Totten.
Dr. Daniel Pipes, your thoughts?
Daniel Pipes: I enthusiastically endorse what you’ve just heard. Excellent analysis.
I’d put it this way — that 11 months ago, almost to the day, a butterfly flapped its wings in a small town in Tunisia, town of 40,000, when a policewoman slapped a fruit vendor. And so far, three despots have been overthrown, and two are on their way, both the Syrian and the Yemeni.
Completely unpredictable. But by leave of our moderator, I’m going to skip over the roots, and the way it’s going, and what it means for the Middle East; and focus on American policy.
Our policy towards these upheavals has been inconsistent, to say the least. We applauded the overthrow — or the resignation of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. And we sat by quite complacently as the Saudis put down a rebellion in Bahrain. We used force against the despot in Libya; we have done nothing of the sort in Syria.
And I think this inconsistency reflects more than the acknowledged amatureness, shortsightedness and incompetence of the Obama Administration. It goes to something deeper. And it goes to a conundrum that American foreign policy faces in the Middle East. As I put in an article recently, we are friendless in the Middle East. We have few allies.
And the conundrum is this — the despots, who we as Americans cannot warm to, whose regimes we would never want to live under, who impose military orders that are executed by ugly intelligence services — the despots are malleable, are without any world ambitions. They want to enjoy the good life. They want famous Hollywood actors and actresses to come celebrate their birthday parties with them. They want to keep pet tigers in their gardens. They want the finest things that Paris can offer.
They are not a threat to us. Usually — there are exceptions. But usually, they’re not a threat to us. They do all this — they repress millions of people in order to have the good life. Ugly to us, but not a threat to us. Whereas in contrast, the Democrats — the people we naturally have a feeling for — are, in fact, our very worst enemies.
We just heard about Tunisia, Egypt — we will see likewise elsewhere. This has been the case since 1991 and the elections in Algeria. Wherever you look, it’s the Islamists, the people who are most hostile to us, who represent a utopian ideological vision of the future, who are in line after the fascists and communists, trying to create a new man. It is the Islamists who are popular, who have organized, who touch something that resonates in the Muslim populations, who have money, who have devoted cadres, who have years, if not decades, of experience, who are part of an international network, who have different means of accessing power — in some cases through NATO, in some cases through the ballot box — for example, in Turkey — some cases through revolution, as in [Iraq]; some cases through military coup d’état, as in Sudan. Many different ways to get to power.
But democracy is one important way. And we find that they gain a plurality, if not a majority, in country after country. Because they are standing for something — integrity and a vision of the future.
So this is the conundrum. The people we can work with we despise. The people we admire are hostile to us. Makes it very difficult to have a policy.
I would suggest three guidelines for policy. First, always oppose the Islamists, plain and simple. Always. Everywhere.
Even when they come to power legitimately, as in Turkey. You may have noticed that our President hugged their prime minister just a week ago. Don’t do that.
So, that’s easy. Always against the Islamists.
Two, always support those few articulate — tend to be young, modern, liberal, secular elements who are with us, who we know more clearly now than a year ago do exist. Tahrir Square is their symbol. They do exist. But they have no chance of getting to power. They do not mobilize the masses, they do not control the bayonets. Someday, possibly, they will be our partners. But not anywhere — in the near future, at least, in — except for Iran, where they might come to power. But in general, help them. Make their lives better, celebrate them, encourage them, without the expectation they’ll take power.
And then finally, and most difficult, the despots themselves. We’ll work with them, to improve them. They’ll never be our friends. But one can — the West as a whole, not just the United States — one can work on them to improve them. It’s not an exciting policy, it’s not an attractive policy, but it’s a realistic policy.
Had we spent the last 30 years nudging and pushing Mubarak, he could’ve ended up, in 2011, in a quite different place where he was. But we didn’t. There were erratic efforts to improve the Egyptian regime, but it remained a military dictatorship, as executed by a police state. And we sat by and accepted it.
So I think in a limited way, always opposing the Islamists, always helping our friends, the liberal seculars; and in a calculated, careful way — calibrated way — pushing the despots in the right direction — we can have a consistent, and perhaps even successful, foreign policy in the Middle East.
Mark Tapson: Thank you, Dr. Pipes.
Our speakers are catching me by surprise, because they’re all coming in under their seven-minute deadline. So I haven’t had to stand up to pressure any of them yet.
But anyway, on to Andy McCarthy.
Andrew McCarthy: Thank you.
I want to — I actually had something else I wanted to say. But I want to bounce off something Daniel said, which I think is very important. I think one of the things that we need to do is reclaim what democracy means —
— so that it’s not an attribute — that the Islamists are not allowed to carry the mantle of it.
I may have bored you with this before over the years, but I went to Catholic school in the Bronx. And I remember that when I was in the third grade, we had a democratic election. You know, we had a whole campaign. We even elected a president. I think we had a vice president and a treasurer. There was nobody who thought that was a democracy. And we all knew the nun was in charge. You know.
And what I think we’ve done really badly in terms of democracy promotion — and this is not just an Obama problem; this is a problem that goes back two or three administrations, and administrations of both parties — is that we have put the procedural [attenments] of democracy ahead of the culture of democracy, and tried to call it democracy in order to show some short-term success.
But the fact that you have popular referenda, and that you, you know, sit down and go through the exercise of writing constitutions — constitutions which, by the way, our State Department assists in the writing of, and that end up establishing Sharia as the fundamental law of these countries and establishing Islam as the state religion, which is a little bit of a bizarre thing, I would say, for a Western power to be assisting in that kind of constitution writing — but that’s not democracy.
And I think if — I’m all for being in the democracy-promotion business. I’m not so sure that we always need to have our military be the vehicle of it. But I think we need to do democracy promotion with our eyes open. Planting a democratic culture, particularly in a place or places where they have not had it for 13 or 14 centuries, is not something you’re going to get done in six or eight months. It’s the work of generations. And I think we have to have a little bit of humility about how easy it will be to accomplish it, and how far they’re going to be willing to go.
Herman Cain started us off today. And I don’t have any 9-9-9 plan. But I did want to — I did think it might be useful to give you this formula — four out of five. Because to me, four out of five is my best way of trying to understand what we’re up against.
I think the single most important thing that has happened in what’s called the Arab Spring — myself, I prefer to call it the lying in winter — but the snapshot that we’ve gotten was the Egyptian referendum about the future of Egypt, the election of the legislature and the president, and the schedule under which that was going to be held. And even though it was, technically speaking, an election about the schedule, and how things were going to progress, it was won in Egypt. The campaign took place in Egypt, as if it were really along sectarian lines.
And a vote for a fast track was a vote for Islam and a vote for the Muslim Brotherhood. And a vote to slow things down, so that the real democrats actually had a chance, a fighting chance, to build some democratic institutions, was deemed to be a vote for — or a vote against Islam. I mean, that was the rhetoric in which the campaign was conducted.
And even though we had heard up until that point that this region was just teeming with Jamal al-Madisons waiting to happen, right —
— in the event the reformers, the secularists and the reformist Muslims, got wiped out — four out of five. Seventy-eight percent to 22 percent.
In — I think it was 2007, they did some polling of a swath of the Islamic countries — the University of Maryland, along with a reputable world polling service. And they asked questions like — would you like to live in a fundamentalist Sharia society? And when they asked those questions in places like Egypt and Pakistan, the response that came back was that about four out of five people said that they would, in fact, like to live in a Sharia society. And if you asked them questions like should Israel exist, four out of five of them say no.
This past year, an outfit called Mapping Sharia — a project called Mapping Sharia — did a survey of American mosques. And what they found was that four out of five mosques in the United States feature literature that endorses, in one way or another, violent jihad. Four out of five. And what they also found was that on the premises of those places where that endorsement can be found, if the literature is on the premises, the imam tends to endorse the literature and make sure that it’s disseminated among the flock. And those mosques tend to be the mosques which invite other imams to come who are notorious for being backers of violent jihadist ideology, not just, you know, run-of-the-mill Muslim Brotherhood Islamist ideology; you know, almost the al-Qaeda brand.
So you never want to oversimplify. But I do think that this is a metric of what we’re up against. And it’s wrong for people on my side of the debate, I think, to address this challenge as if we had no allies in the region and as if there were no champions of democracy. Because there are. But let’s not overestimate what they’re in a position to accomplish. And let’s not underestimate how very, very hard this is. We may move the ball up the field. But let’s be realistic — we’re going to move if — if we do it at all, it’s going to be in fits and starts, and there’ll be a lot of setbacks.
And the last point, I guess — can I make one more point, or am I out of time? I’ll make one more point. I would argue for a foreign policy that puts American interests first in recognition of what actual American interests are. And I’m thinking in the Reagan model.
You know, Reagan came in, and he decided that the biggest priority that the United States had was to defeat the Soviet Union. And all of foreign policy was organized around that goal. And what that meant was — it wasn’t that democracy promotion was not an important American interest. It was that in places like Poland, where we could do democracy promotion in an aggressive way that would really hurt the Soviet Union, we did it in an aggressive way. And in places in Central America, where we were relying on less-than-democratic forces to confront the Soviet Union, we eased off the pedal. Didn’t mean that democracy promotion was unimportant to us; it just meant that it didn’t serve our more imperative interests.
And I think we need to figure out, you know, what do we need to accomplish? For example, Iran — we ought to have a national policy of regime change in Iran. We ought to be unambiguous about the fact that Iran is the enemy, and we ought to organize all of American policy around that idea. It would be much more disciplined than, you know, blathering on about democracy promotion, and not taking the opportunities we can to hurt the enemy.
Mark Tapson: Thank you, Andrew McCarthy.
This is the most streamlined time-conscious panel of speakers in the history of speech. I have little to do up here.
Okay. On to — last, and certainly not least — Douglas Murray.
Douglas Murray: Thank you. I hope I don’t screw up the timing now.
But it was touch-and-go whether I was going to get here. I came in from Chicago at 4:00 a.m. this morning. And I’ve been touring the States for the week. And on one occasion, just the other day, I got into Houston, I think, and I got to the baggage bit. And the lady at the airport said — trying to help, said — where have you come from, sir? And I said, I don’t know.
She looked at me with that sort of — ah, we’ve got one of them. Anyhow, it’s always a great pleasure to be back. It’s always a particular pleasure to be back at the Restoration Weekend. It’s like coming home.
And I just wanted to pick up on one thing in particular, which was your question at the outset, of what we should do, and what we should not do. Daniel Pipes, I think, said exactly what we should do. So at the risk of being the pessimist among pessimists in the room, could I just give a case study of what you should not do? And apologies from the outset at being slightly parochial in this, but let me give you the lesson in what not to do if you were, say, Britain.
Plucking an example at random.
In November 1991, a man called Rachid Ghannouchi arrived in the UK. And he arrived in the UK requesting political asylum. He got it. He was granted political asylum in 1993. From that time, Rachid Ghannouchi and his extensive family have used the UK to bolster not just their political cause but their political movement. The Ennahda Party that has just swept to majority in Tunisia was ostensibly run for many years from London.
Mr. Ghannouchi, of course, who said things like Zionism is both alien and illegitimate in origin, it’s a hegemonist and nationalist project rooted and nourished on the traditional European impulse towards expansion and domination — so he’s obviously thrown a bit of Chomsky into his Islamism there, you can tell, but someone’s got to read it.
And he also, of course, from exile has practiced [that very] ideology against any progressive Muslims who aren’t quite up to scratch on his worldview. And, as I say, after the toppling of the ruler in Tunisia, he went back and, with his colleagues, successfully gained an election triumph.
So bad news for you if you’re a progressive Muslim reformer in Tunisia. You didn’t get any help from the British government, but the Islamists did. Thanks very much.
If only this were a one-off. But it isn’t. In 1994, a man called Kamal Helbawy arrived in the UK and immediately became a British citizen. Kamal Helbawy, among other things, said after the recent unlamented death of Osama bin Laden — was lamented by Helbawy, who said — I ask Allah to have mercy upon Osama bin Laden, to treat him generously, to enlighten his grave, and to make him join the prophets, the martyrs and the good people. He has claimed that 9/11 was an inside job, and far more.
The point is that Kamal Helbawy is a very prominent Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leader who successfully worked for many years out of London as his base, and very useful for him it was. It was from London that he said that even two-year-old Israeli children are suitable targets for murder. Because they will grow up to be Israeli men and women, and we can’t have that.
Just after the toppling of Mubarak, I found myself in a BBC studio with Mr. Helbawy, who was presenting once again — as he has for many years to certain constituencies — the Muslim Brotherhood as being an enormously progressive party. I asked if he thought it was at all violent. And he said — no, no, no, I have been a member for many decades and have never — I would not be a member of a movement if it were not based on charity and so on.
A lot of people bought this sort of thing. But again, if you were an Egyptian reformist who wanted separation of mosque and state, you haven’t had any help at all from the British government or the British asylum system for years. But if you’re an Islamist, you had. And sure enough, after Mubarak fell, and shortly after our conversation on the BBC, Mr. Helbawy went back to Cairo. And from there, his first trip was to go to Tehran to speak to Khomeini, the supreme leader, and the other revolutionaries about how you take over a state for Islam in the post-revolutionary period.
One other quick example to enlighten your day — a man called Mohammed Sawalha, who came to Britain in the early ’90s claiming political asylum — he was the Hamas commander in the West Bank, and has been for the last 20 years living on the dole in London, working as [essentially] an emissary, envoy — call it what you want — of Hamas; and has been able to fund-raise. The second flotilla had a fundraiser in London just this summer, run by Mr. Sawalha and his friends.
The reason I cite these awful examples is not just to say what we shouldn’t do, very obviously shouldn’t do; but to highlight the fact that our failures as societies ourselves have consequences. Because those people who have for years argued that something is badly wrong in Western asylum policy argue that something is badly wrong in Western immigration policy. They are being vindicated at the moment. Because indeed, for decades we have supported and given sanctity to exactly the wrong people. And that is now being felt across the Middle East.
You know, the Left loves to say that everything is our fault. Here’s something that is their fault. And it should be stuck to them. And they should be reminded of it time and time again.
Now, just very quickly, to finish, I would say one other thing, which is the importance in this whole period of thinking strategically. And it seems to be a skill which across Western democracies our leaders are lacking at the moment. They have the ability, it seems, to react — to react to specific events, but not to see things strategically in a global way that even a generation ago political leaders of all types seemed to have.
So for instance, if you only had the energy, if you only had the money, if you only had the commitment to make one very small-scale intervention in the whole of this set of events, it would be strategically foolish to single out Libya to use that intervention on. It would be strategically sensible to single out Syria, to try to stop Syria’s meddling in Lebanon, and to try to make sure that the regional destabilizer in the Middle East, Iran, is left friendless and alone in the region, to clarify for everybody in the world that Iran is the problem. Unfortunately, we don’t seem to have that kind of leadership at the moment.
Two final things, very quickly — one, in the long term, the desire of Muslims across the Middle East and North Africa to have a say in their own future is, I think, the best chance we have of seeing these societies normalizing in any way. In the long term, it would be exactly what one would wish. But in the short term, the fact is that it could go any way. And in the short term, it is enormously disturbing and unsettling what is happening. You know, we have in the West — it seems to me, at the moment — neither the understanding, the commitment, or the determination to have the involvement that we will have to have if we would want these societies to go the right way.
In the meantime, everyone says, you know, which year is it? Is it 1979, 1989, 1889? I was speaking recently to a friend who was born in Vienna in 1920, and he — a very interesting comment. He said — I think this is going to be more like 1914. And there’s one thing in particular form that that I’d highlight — is that after these events, the region will very likely be unrecognizable. Empires that existed will have fallen, strong countries will have become weak, weak countries could become strong. It is absolutely all open. But for that to be the case, and for us in the West to be so lacking in our response — and to have been, as I said, supporting the very, very worst people and exporting them back — is something that we should be responsible for, and something we should now be making amends for in a very, very practical way.
Mark Tapson: Thank you, Douglas Murray, and all our panelists.
Okay. Shall we have some questions? We have a couple of people with microphones. Questions — let’s start with this woman right back here. And then next, how about — that gentleman right there, on the end, in the back. We’ll go with him next.
Unidentified Audience Member: My question is why. Why? Why did UK admit these terrorists? Why? Why are we inviting the very people who have sworn to bring us down? Why? And it’s, I think, perhaps naïve to think that it’s not by design. There is a will somewhere to allow the undermining of the foundations of Western civilization.
Mark Tapson: Did you mean for that to be directed at a particular speaker?
Unidentified Audience Member: Anybody.
Douglas Murray: I have to say, I’ve always asked this question myself. I can’t completely answer it. I don’t think it’s a job for a political analyst; I think it’s a job for a psychiatrist.
It makes no sense. You have to be suicidal. You have to want to die. You want to have to not defend or continue the society that you have. It makes no sense. None at all. All I can say is that — and a number of people, Bruce Bawer most notably, and others have written about this at length in recent years, and have exposed what’s happening.
But it is a psychopathic failing on behalf of governments and peoples who, I think, perhaps — just very briefly — perhaps they fell for this idea that so many people in Europe did — that effectively the future was a [cantian], peaceful, perfect state, and that everyone wanted to be a part of it, and that it would mean that we lived in clover for the rest of time. And they forgot that there are people out there who, when they say they want to kill you, mean it.
Mark Tapson: Daniel Pipes, I think you wanted to respond?
Daniel Pipes: Douglas Murray and I shared a platform like this in London four years ago, arguing our side against the mayor of London at that time, Ken Livingstone. And a number of you in the audience were there. I’d like to add to what Douglas has said.
I think there is a reason — that the Left is fundamentally critical of what Western civilization is. And the more left you go, the more left, the more critical. The Islamists are critical of Western civilization. Now, they’re critical from a different vantage point and for different reasons and different goals. But they are the troops for the Left these days.
Mark Tapson: And Andy, I think you wanted to respond, too?
Andrew McCarthy: I would just echo what Daniel just said. The subtitle of my book was called “How Islam and the Left Sabotage America.” And I’m not so sure it’s a psychosis. I think that they actually have allies within Western civilization who are situated geographically within Western civilization — not culturally and not mentally — who have as much interest in bringing it down as they do. And it doesn’t mean that they agree about everything. I think that, you know, history shows that when it gets down to just Islamists and leftists, they fight each other brutally. But as long as they have a common obstacle — and here, they have the common obstacle of our freedom culture — they will collaborate, and they will work together to destroy it. Because they have more in common than they do against each other.
Mark Tapson: Did you have a thought, Michael?
Michael Totten: Yeah, I’ll add something also.
I spent a lot of time in Beirut. And Beirut is a magnet for journalists, for a couple of reasons. One, it’s a really nice place. Everyone I know who’s been there loves it. Even the Israelis I know who’ve been to Beirut love the place. And there’s always something to write about. So there are many of us there.
And I know a number of journalists on the far left — I’m not talking about the mainstream Left here; talking about the far Left — who, to one extent or another, either make excuses for Hezbollah and the Syrians or actually support them, and even romanticize them.
And those who make excuses for Hezbollah — they will agree with me that Hezbollah’s a problem. But they do believe that Israel and the United States are a bigger problem. And they take issue with pro-American and pro-Western Lebanese, especially the Christians. There’s something wrong with the Christians of Lebanon. Because they’re pro-American, and sometimes they’re even pro-Israel, and they’re not authentic Arabs. They’re like sellouts, and they like the poor and those who resist, so to speak.
Now, this is not the mainstream Left. This is not the Hillary Clinton and the Joe Biden Left. This is the radical Left. But this view exists, and it’s unfortunately common, in my experience in Beirut. I don’t know how many people in, say, the UK government actually view things this way. But maybe some of them do. I don’t know if this really feeds into what Douglas was talking about or not. But I have seen this sort of weird, bizarre and kind of creepy sympathy for Islamists. And of course, this is exclusively on the radical left, not the mainstream left and, of course, not the right. Certainly not the center.
Mark Tapson: [Hinder], and then next, let’s have — we have some more questions? Okay, how about this lady right here?
Okay, this gentleman. And please remember to try to direct your question toward one speaker, so that we can get to other questions, if possible.
Unidentified Audience Member: Okay. Okay. Hi.
This dovetails Doug Murray’s comments. And of course, it’s — be directed to Doug first. And I hope I’ve got this point correct. But if, as you say, that it made no strategic sense for us backing the Libyan uprising, and it makes all the sense for the US to back the uprising in Syria, then what is the rationale or the strategic policy that the US uses to justify the two?
Mark Tapson: And who is that for?
Unidentified Audience Member: Doug.
Mark Tapson: Oh, sorry. Doug.
Douglas Murray: Well, I don’t know.
I’ve just got no idea. I don’t know what they’re thinking. As I say, it seems to me to be a simple demonstration — they can’t think straight on this, in the same way that, you know, when everyone was going do to their first tour or Tahrir Square a few months back — William Hague, our Foreign Secretary, went to Tahrir Square, had a great walk around, said how wonderful it was that Mubarak had gone, and how important it was that he’d gone because he’d been ghastly to his people, and so on. And then he went straight off to see the Saudi defense minister, who’d just been pimping his troops out to shoot down the people in Bahrain. It makes no sense.
And I have to say there will be, I think, a terrible reckoning for this, when people across the region continue to realize that on this one, the complete lack of consistency, as well as a lack of strategic thinking, is evident to absolutely anybody who looks at it.
Mark Tapson: This lovely lady here is next, if we could get the mic to her. And then, this gentleman. And then you. Okay.
Unidentified Audience Member: Is there anything the United States can do at the present time to prevent Egypt being taken over by the Muslim Brotherhood and becoming another theocracy like Iran? Daniel Pipes?
Daniel Pipes: What can the US do to prevent the Islamists from taking over in Egypt? Actually, I don’t think we have to do a whole lot. As I understand Egypt, there was a revolution in 1952 which overthrew a constitutional monarchy.
And the soldiers came in. First, Mohamed Naghi till 1954, then Abdul Nasser till 1970, then Sadat till 1981, then Mubarak till 2011. And now, ladies and gentlemen, Mohamed Hussein Tantawi is the new ruler of Egypt. He may not call himself president — he’s merely the field marshal, the chairman of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, and the secretary — minister of defense. But he is the ruler of Egypt.
And more broadly, the Egyptian military, which has ruled now for nearly 60 years, are the rulers of Egypt. They have, as I indicated before, the good life. To be a colonel in the Egyptian military is to be a very happy person. You live the good life. The Egyptian military controls a substantial part of the Egyptian economy, making everything from tissue paper to, you know, armaments. And the military intends to stay in power.
And I think as you — even today, there was a New York Times piece about how the military intends to stay, and is maneuvering to stay in power. The president, whoever it will be, will be not an insignificant figure, but not a determining figure. He will help figure out the budgets for the schools, and which roads need to be fixed, and other such not-unimportant tasks. But he will not be the ruler of Egypt.
Now, the only challenge to the military are the Islamists in the army and the military. Will they succeed? Is the military proof against the Muslim Brotherhood or not? It is not like the Turkish military used to be — firmly, clearly, against Islamists in the officer core. One anecdote from Turkey — they serve liquor. And if you don’t drink your wine, you’re out of the officer core. At least, used to be the case. That’s not so in Egypt. There are Islamists. Indeed, Anwar Sadat was murdered by Islamists in the military.
So I can’t guarantee for you that they’re going to be kept out. But that is the key. I don’t think US policy has too much to do with it. It’s an internal, military, civil relationship. It is internal to the military. And all we can do is watch and see how well the military’s keeping the Islamists from seeping into the officer core and become the significant force within it.
Mark Tapson: Deborah’s next. But how about — there’s a gentleman right there with his hand up. He’ll be next.
Unidentified Audience Member: Thank you, gentlemen, so much for what you’ve been sharing, appreciate it. And you haven’t been completely pessimistic, so we do appreciate that as well.
The question I had kind of leads on two points both that Douglas and Daniel have spoken, which is — obviously there’s a lack of strategic leadership. We’re doing what we can to change that in America in the next election. Whether or not that happens, we’ve been hearing about the failures of the past — what we’ve done, supporting the wrong people; what we could’ve done. Daniel mentioned three things that may not even be applicable anymore. We don’t have any despots to reform, and we have a whole new landscape, as you were painting.
Going forward in the wake of the Arab Spring — if we have that strategic leadership, what would you say we need to do in the future? I know that may be somewhat a crystal ball, because we don’t know what we’re going to be looking at. But we may not have those despots. We cannot count on the moderates necessarily coming into power. What can we strategically do now, looking forward, that we obviously have failed up to this point?
Daniel Pipes: May I suggest that each of us propose one specific policy?
Mark Tapson: That works for me. Do you want to start?
Andrew McCarthy: Sure. Again, I think humility. We have to recognize that we are not the cause of everything that happens in this region, nor is it in our capacity to affect outcomes in the region. I think that we need to be much more modest in what we can accomplish and get a grip on what America’s actual interests are.
And I hate to be a broken record about this. But if I could do one thing, and one thing alone in that region, I would make it clear as a matter of policy that the United States regards Iran as an enemy and won’t be satisfied till there’s regime change. And I would order every bit of American foreign policy around that goal.
Mark Tapson: Dr. Pipes?
Daniel Pipes: In that same vein, I would say help the Iranian opposition to overthrow the mullahs.
Mark Tapson: Would you other gentlemen like to chime in?
Douglas Murray: I would just — absolutely — following off on Daniel’s point — let everyone in the region know that if they are on the side of real democracy — if they are on the side of a genuine reformism — that America is their friend and will remain their friend. Because there is a tug-of-war for the hearts of people across the region. And as we saw in 2009, when Obama failed to speak of the Iranian students who stood up — a lot of people will have seen that. And they will have been looking around over the last two years, for other friends. And the other friends may well be better friends, in one sense. But they’ll be far worse friends in the end.
Mark Tapson: Michael?
Michael Totten: Yeah. I would just — to put it as simply as possible — oppose the Islamists always and everywhere, and support the liberals always and everywhere. I mean, the way this is going to work is going to differ in each place. Because in Egypt, the liberals are small in number, and the Islamists are enormous. So the policy that would flow from this may not be something that we would really like. But in Iran, where the Islamists appear to be in the minority — and the liberals, broadly defined, in the majority — it should be obvious that we should not be on the sidelines in something like that.
So my starting point would just always be consistently anti-Islamist and pro-liberal/democratic, everywhere. As much as is realistic.
Mark Tapson: Great.
That gentleman there, and then let’s line up somebody on this side to answer. Her next, then.
Unidentified Audience Member: My question is for Daniel Pipes and Michael Totten.
Given that when Hassan al-Banna established the Muslim Brotherhood, an important goal was the reestablishment of the caliphate — if Muslim Brotherhood-linked parties were to come into power from Tunisia [into] Syria, do you see in the future a reestablishment of some form of caliphate? Or is the tribalism and particularism in the Arab countries so strong that the current national boundaries are likely to persist?
Michael Totten: I would be stunned indeed if anything like another caliphate exists. These countries aren’t even — well, Tunisia and Egypt are somewhat cohesive internally, because the tribal identity is very small, and they’re — accept for the 10 percent Coptic minority in Egypt, they’re relatively homogenous — they’re not like Iraq, or Lebanon or Syria — but most of these Arab countries lack utterly any kind of internal cohesion, and tried to expand it even further. Like when Egypt and Syria briefly merged together in the United Arab Republic — that didn’t last very long, because it’s completely implausible.
So I don’t see any reason why it would be more plausible now, all of a sudden. So I don’t think it’ll ever happen. I think this is just a pipe dream that some extremists have. And I don’t think they’ve really thought through how this would work.
Daniel Pipes: Ditto.
Mark Tapson: Okay. Your turn.
Unidentified Audience Member: I just wanted to address something that Daniel had mentioned about supporting the Democrat Party, which — excuse me, not supporting the Democrats; understanding the problems with Democrats. The thing that we’ve seen that’s been increasingly distressing is how someone like Grover Norquist has insinuated himself deeply into the Republican Party, and what’s been happening.
For example, in New York, when we go to something called the Monday Meeting, and we see Norquist there — and those people that we’ve recently got into office that were Tea Party type people, the new blood — and you see him with the nod and the wink, and the slap on the back to these people — or you see Eric Cantor supporting a candidate — I believe his name is Hassan, that is a Republican — this is becoming even more distressing right now. So how do we —
Daniel Pipes: What about —
Unidentified Audience Member: — (inaudible) more education that we —
Daniel Pipes: What about Grover Norquist?
Well, Grover Norquist used to come to this meeting. Grover Norquist no longer comes to this meeting. Because Frank Gaffney wrote an exposé of him in FrontPage Magazine.
Daniel Pipes: More broadly, I think that’s symbolic that Grover Norquist’s views — support for Islamists — is not popular in conservative circles. He is an important figure. But I think it is — he has had very little traction. There are only a handful of conservatives who are in agreement with Grover Norquist. And it’s an anomaly, and it’s not something that is taking over the Republican Party.
For example, look at the Republican candidates for President. None of them, in any sense, reflect his views. So I think — I wish he’d change, I wish he would pay a price in his career for it. Certainly not coming here is paying a price for it. Btu I don’t think it’s a great danger.
Mark Tapson: Andrew, you look like you wanted to comment. And then we’ll have time for one more question.
Andrew McCarthy: I just think we need to do a better job of explaining that there’s a difference between — well, a broader problem than jihadist ideology. I mean, the narrative that we’re fighting against is that there’s this narrow al-Qaeda ideology which includes killing Muslims in order to further their own construction of Islam, and that everybody else is a moderate. And that’s really — what I said before about four out of five, I think, addresses this. Yes, there is this al-Qaeda ideology, and it may be fringe in the greater scheme of things. But the fact that you don’t subscribe to that, but you want to supplant the United States Constitution with Sharia, does not make you a moderate, even if you’re not willing to blow up a bridge this minute to get it done.
Mark Tapson: Last question, before the aroma of lunch begins to drift in here.
Unidentified Audience Member: Are there any countries that we ought to be cutting off as far as foreign aid in the Middle East?
Unidentified Speaker: All of them.
Unidentified Participant: I’d start with Washington.
Unidentified Participant: Do we have time for one more?
Mark Tapson: Yes, one more from Frank Gaffney and —
Frank Gaffney: Well, was I was just — alluded to, in connection with Grover, let me just say — we’ll be talking about this, I think at some length, on Sunday morning, in a panel that I’ll be participating in.
The problem is not that Republicans agree with Grover Norquist’s position on supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in the United States. The problem is that they don’t understand that that’s what he’s promoting as they endorse him, or work with him, or submit to him on other agenda items. And my profound concern — and Andy knows, and Daniel and others, I think — is we have witnessed his influence operation at work in Republican circles for 12 years. And it is time for us to come to grips with it and stop it. Because I believe what we’re seeing the Obama Administration doing today — which we’ve had described in such important detail here today — is bordering on what he accomplished in the Bush years. And it is a toxic cancer in our system, and I believe must be rooted out. Thank you.
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